How Smartphones Affect Our Ability to Focus

It’s no exaggeration to say that smartphones have radically changed the way many people work and live. Having a device that connects you to the world in an instant has many blessings, but comes with lots of drawbacks too.

Have you ever considered how smartphones can affect your ability to focus? This can affect you at work as well as during daily activities. Let’s take a look at how phones can affect us without us even thinking about it.

A Constant Flood of Notifications

Nearly all smartphone apps want to send you notifications about something. News apps alert you the second something happens in the world. New email notifications go off all day long. And you receive a notification every time someone interacts with you on social media or messaging apps.

It’s no surprise that this wrecks our focus. When concentrating on one task, suddenly having to divert your attention to something else pulls you out of what you were doing. Even if you only leave your work for a few seconds to check an email, it will likely take some time to “recalibrate” and regain focus. This is why we recommend adjusting your email settings for fewer distractions.

The Presence of Phones Ruins Our Focus

But it’s not just this steady stream of notifications that grab our attention. Recently, psychology researchers conducted a test to see if a person simply having his smartphone nearby could affect her thinking.

Participants were split into three groups: One had their phones face-down on the desk in front of them, another had their phones in their pockets, and the last group left their phones in another room. All three groups had their phones silenced, so they wouldn’t hear any notifications.

Interestingly, the people who had their phones in another room performed the best, while those with their phones on the desk did the worst. It’s quite telling to find that the mere presence of a phone in your workspace — even if it’s turned off — can affect your cognitive ability.

Why do phones have this immense grasp on our attention? Because they connect us to the internet and the many valuable services it provides, most people view their phones as indispensable. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone today who would willingly go without their phone all day.

Thus, as most people are in the habit of checking their phones all the time, we automatically pay attention to them. This is similar to how parents drop whatever they’re doing to respond to their baby’s cry. It doesn’t matter if we’re watching a movie, in a business meeting, or on a date — if our phone goes off, we’re so worried that it could be important that we must check it.

Ironically, because people are so drawn to using smartphones without thinking like this, it takes a toll on our mental capacities to resist the urge to grab your smartphone as soon as a notification goes off.

Fear of Missing Out

One of the reasons people attend to their phones right away is that the constant updating of the online world brings a fear of missing out. If you don’t check social media every hour, you might miss an update from your old friend. When a business email arrives, it could be your boss with an important request. And when someone calls you, you’d better look at it right away so you don’t miss anything.

It’s important to recognize that most of what’s on your phone can wait until later. Rarely is an incoming notification so urgent that you should interrupt your work or social situation to attend to it.

Of course, smartphones have powerful uses, and they can save us lots of time. But it’s important to recognize the best times and places to utilize them. If you don’t actively need your phone, try putting it on silent and placing it out of sight. This will improve your focus on the task at hand instead of splitting it on something that’s, most of the time, unnecessary.

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